How Could Sea Urchins Help Human Health?
Several characteristics make sea urchins good choices for research. They have strong immune systems and long life spans; some can live up to 100 years. And they're very fertile; producing 20 million eggs at a time. Humans are born with innate immunity and also acquire additional immunities over time. Sea urchins only have innate immunity, with 10 to 20 times as many such genes than humans.Scientists hope that sea urchins will provide a new set of antibiotic and antiviral compounds to fight various infectious diseases.
"At a genetic level, ah, they're actually related to us. So sea urchins and humans share a common ancestor," Cristina Calestani, a developmental geneticist at University of Central Florida in Orlando, tells DBIS. "You really need a relatively simple system in order to study ... but still, also you want it to be complex enough and closer enough to vertebrate in order to use this information,"
Calestani says."Sea urchins are one of the few invertebrates on our branch of the evolutionary tree, that share more genes with humans than fruit flies and worms -- and can be reproduced for research faster than other animals. That means researchers can produce a practically unlimited amount of material. And with a complete map of the urchin's DNA, they can better understand how genes work, so when diseases like cancer strike, maybe doctors will know how to treat and even prevent them."
To find out more about this research project, go to http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/0304-sea_urchins_reveal_medical_mysteries.htm